Pilgrimage Day 53: St. Agnes, Pray for us!

January 21, 2014: the feast of St. Agnes.

File:St Agnese in Agone Rome interior 02.jpg

Way back in 1984 or so, I chose St. Agnes as my Confirmation saint (or did she choose me?). I had read about her in a book in my school’s library, and was struck by her courage, and her love for God. I wanted to be like her!

Here is the Antiphon from today’s Vespers:

The blessed Agnes stood in the midst of the fire * and stretched forth her hands unto the Lord, and prayed, saying O Thou Who Alone art Almighty! Who Alone art to be adored! Who Alone art to be worshiped! Who Alone art to be feared! I bless thee, and glorify thy Name for ever and ever!

I STILL want to be like her!!

Product Review:

For Christmas, my Mother-In-Law gave me a 5-Mile Walk at Home DVD with a set of hand-weights, which I have been using when the weather does not permit me to go outside for a walk. It takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to do the 5-Mile Advanced Walk workout on the video. It keeps my heart rate close to where I want it to be during the workout, so I am really training my heart and burning the fat.

Stay tuned for some exciting news!

Advent and Christmas at Home

Autumn is the time in our family’s year when our thoughts turn towards the coming winter and all the festivities and visitors we will have – the time when the family does more that is “out of the ordinary” than at any other time of year.My beautiful picture

Canned Applesauce

Every August we meet with my In-Laws to pick chokecherries, peaches, grapes and apples on the roadsides and in friends’ yards. Then we make applesauce and pie fillings, chokecherry and grape juice and jelly, and peach pie fillings. Whatever we preserve by canning, we use throughout the coming year and send as Christmas gifts to faraway relatives.
Every September I vow to have one more stocking finished for the kids, although I do not always finish in time. I have been making these felt-applique Christmas stockings since my first child was born 14 years ago. I have 5 finished, and am working on number 6. For years now I have wondered if I will ever catch up and have one for each of my 10 children, but, since I am about to turn 44, I think I might catch up one day. Nature being what it is, and God having made me the way He chose, I will eventually leave the child-bearing years.
Every October we get together with my In-Laws to make our traditional Christmas tamales. We work all day to make as many as we can, put them in bags by the dozen, and eat some with refried beans, Spanish rice, and other goodies for dinner. Then we take our bags home and put them in the freezer to be enjoyed on Christmas Eve and throughout the coming year.
During November, my children and their local cousins spend time with my Mother-In-Law (their “Nana”), making Christmas cookies, especially her traditional biscochitos (Mexican Christmas cookies), which will be available for snacking starting on December 24 until they are gone!
Advent here starts with St. Andrew’s day, November 30. This is our wedding anniversary, and before we were even married, Ian and I vowed to name our first son Andrew after this Apostle and martyr. We set up our Nativity set, which was a gift from my family to us on our wedding day. We only put Mary and Joseph in it, with maybe a few sheep and shepherds close-by. Our Three Kings figures are set up somewhere else in the house, and they travel to the manger throughout Advent and Christmas, to arrive on Epiphany.
Advent Wreath
We also set up our Advent wreath on the dining table, with its rose and violet candles. A friend of mine makes beautiful ones made of pure beeswax, so I always use hers if I order them in time.
St Nicholas Day
Next comes St. Nicholas day, December 6. The night before, the children place their Christmas stockings on the dining room table. In the morning there are always mandarins, nuts in their shells, and spice cookies with an image of St. Nicholas himself on them! Sometimes he brings socks or other small but needed items. This day is also our first son’s birthday – I bet you can guess his name: Andrew Nicholas!
St LucySt. Lucy table
Then St. Lucy’s day comes and we make every effort to bring home-made goodies to my In-Laws. Our eldest daughter, Lucy, of course, dresses in white and serves us all by candlelight. Usually I have made something with honey (a honey cake made with strong coffee has been a favorite), but this year the girls want to make some authentic Swedish St. Lucy Cats. 
Advent Tree
After St. Lucy, Advent really starts going fast. We make gingerbread cookies in the shape of nativity figures, and some years we even have time to “paint” them with food-coloring-and-egg-yolk “watercolors.” Depending on how early we get a tree, it might hold pink and purple Advent lights as well as Jesse Tree ornaments.
Christmas Tree
If we wait until the end of Advent, it gets white and/or colored lights (depending on which strands work when I plug them in), and we have a tree-decorating day usually Gaudete Sunday or the last Sunday of Advent. We have ornaments from Ian’s childhood, and I have added an ornament of some significance to the children almost every year of their lives. For example, when the older girls were doing Irish Dance, I gave them each a shamrock ornament. The year we all climbed Pikes Peak, I gave each child a key chain with the mountain depicted on it. They will each have a box of their own ornaments to take with them when they eventually set up their own homes. We turn on the Christmas tree lights every night during Christmas for our Night Prayers, and if we have any activities in the living room in the evenings.
My beautiful pictureMom & Uncle James
Each year sometime during Advent, when all of my husband’s siblings can gather, we have a Family Talent Show. Everyone works on some sort of presentation, from singing to Irish Dance, from a short skit to poetry recitation or instrumental music.
Christmas Table Setting
On Christmas Eve, we all gather at my In-Laws’ house and eat our traditional Mexican dinner (remember the tamales we made in October?)! Each family brings something for the meal: some of their tamales, refried beans, calabasitas (squash sauteed with chiles, corn, spices, and topped with cheese), Mexican or Spanish rice, Ensalada de Noche Buena (a traditional Mexican salad for Christmas Eve) and home-made biscochitos for dessert.
Twas the Night Before Christmas...Christmas Stockings All Lined Up
After dinner, the patriarch of the family reads “A Visit from St. Nicholas” to the children. During the recitation of the poem, St. Nicholas lands on the roof with his reindeer (we have heard footsteps and bells up there), and sometimes we even see St. Nick himself running by a window outside. The saint fills everyone’s stockings while we listen to the story, and afterwards we all open them up and enjoy the goodies (oranges, nuts, candy canes, chocolates, and the kids get a little toy or useful item like a hair brush or pocketknife). Sometimes the adults get useful things, too, like gift cards to the grocery store or a nearby restaurant. If we have extended family with us for the day, we will exchange gifts with them on this night. Sometime during the evening, the Baby Jesus mysteriously appears in the Nativity scene between Mary & Joseph. Sometimes Angels appear also!
Christmas Spice Bread
Some years we have gone to (and even sung in the choir for) Midnight Mass, but with young ones still very young, we have mostly gone to the Christmas Morning Sung Mass at our parish. We take homemade breads and cookies to distribute to our priests and friends there, and bring home goodies from them as well.
After Mass, we have a wonderful brunch at home. Last year we made a sausage-and-egg casserole and French toast, which we served with coffee, orange juice and milk. The Advent wreath that has graced our table gets moved to the door and becomes a Christmas wreath. The candles get put away until next year it they still have plenty of wax on them.
Eggnog Shootout
That evening we have all the family over for a turkey dinner. Typically, we have a home-made egg nog contest between my husband and his brother Mike. Ian makes his child-friendly so all of our kids can have some. Mike puts in a lot of rum (and other spirits), so he usually wins, even though the kids all vote for Daddy’s. I serve a turkey and everyone brings a side dish or dessert. Uncle James always brings the drinks (because when I send out an email asking everyone to sign up for a dish, he waits until the end so there is only one thing no one signed up for), and a can of cranberry jelly( because he likes to slice it very thin, even though no one eats it). If we have gifts from friends and relatives who are not with us, we will open them on this day so that thank you notes can be sent promptly.
Christmas at our house comes to a close on Epiphany. During the night, the Three Kings have come, and left a family gift on the dining table (a game we can all play or a movie we can all watch together). Then we have everyone over again (usually at our house, but sometimes at my In-Laws’) for a Kings Cake or some traditional Epiphany treat from a European country. (I am thinking of making a French Galette des Rois this time) If we have not opened all of our presents either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, we save the ones from each other for this special day. 
Shortly after Epiphany we take down the tree and Christmas wreath. If we have friends with goats, they get these delicacies as a Christmas treat. The decorations get put away little by little, until the only significant relics of Christmas consist of the way we treat each other and those around us. 

Paula and Tree

Merry Christmas!

40% off Sale at Aquinas and More

Starting today and going through the rest of August,  Aquinas and More is having a 40% off inventory reduction sale.

There are books, t-shirts & hoodies, scapulars, Loretto medals, clergy sweaters and collars, prayer cards,  and more… There’s even a Christmas card and a set of Advent candles, if you are thinking ahead (remember last year when you tried to find Advent candles a week before Advent and they were all sold out?).   I have my eye on the beeswax tea lights.  They’ll be nice for the table when we celebrate St. Lucy’s Day or Night Prayers on Christmas Eve!

Rum Ball Recipe

I have been promising to post this (and other) recipe(s) for a while, so here it is. Mimi, the Chess Pie recipe is next I PROMISE!


2 boxes vanilla wafers (12 oz each), finely chopped in food processor
4 C. pecans (16 oz bag), finely chopped
4 C. powdered sugar
8 tsp. cocoa powder
6 tsp. light corn syrup
1 1/2 C. dark rum (or bourbon or brandy. I didn’t have enough of any one thing, so I mixed rum and brandy. Hence, Rumdy Balls)

Mix all ingredients in a BIG bowl. Roll into balls by hand, and then roll the balls in regular sugar or cocoa powder or additional chopped nuts. Store in airtight container. Put in airtight tins or bags to give away as gifts.

Christmas Shopping Coupon for Aquinas and More

Because there are only two weeks left before Christmas, we’d like to help make the rest of your Christmas shopping easier by giving you and your readers a coupon for free priority shipping on orders over $55 at our store. Just enter the code BloggerSpecial into the coupon field during checkout. In order to ensure delivery by Christmas, we’re encouraging our customers to place their orders by Thursday, December 18 at the latest if they want priority shipping (this date is only applicable to in-stock items). Don’t wait too long to get great Catholic gifts for everyone on your list!

Have a blessed Advent!

Baking for Christmas

Starting in September, we have made some cookies to give as gifts for Christmas.

First, we made Gingersnaps from Faith & Family magazine’s November/December 2007 issue. We did not burn them this time.

We made Gingerbread Men (and Women, and Snowmen and Stars) from a recipe I found years ago in one of those “Holiday Baking” mini-magazines you find at the grocery store checkout.

We also made Springerle, lemon-anise flavored HARD cookies for dunking in coffee, tea or cocoa. I think I used the recipe in Joy of Cooking. My mom especially likes these, so I make them primarily for her, and also giv ehtem to other coffee-drinkers in the family.

Next, we will be making Pine Bark, also from the F & F Nov./Dec. ’07 issue, and bourbon balls (or rum balls, depending on what I find in the seldom-visited liquor cabinet), from a family recipe.

On Christmas Eve we’ll make Christmas Eve Mice, from the F & F issue cited above. The recipe pages in this particular issue are destined to be well-worn soon. I was hoping this year’s November/December issue would have more good cookie recipes, but it just has ideas for dressing up store-bought refrigerator cookie dough, which is fine if you are in a hurry and don’t mind the too-sweet taste or hazardous ingredients. But since we usually make our cookies in September & October and freeze them, we want them to be worth the wait until Christmas! We’ll stick with from-scratch for now.

Gifts from the Heart

I read today a good post on simplifying gift-giving for Christmas at Starry Sky Ranch. I wrote a lengthy comment there, and decided to make it my first blog post in a long while.

Great post, Kim!

I have been thinking about this for several years now, too. It is not always easy to find the time to make hand-made gifts for going-on-eight children, plus In-Laws, cousins, etc., nor is it possible to find the money to buy natural toys and gifts for so many. But it is worth the effort. The kids help me make special cookies to send to their cousins in another state, I sew one more Christmas stocking each year for the youngest child (some day I may be caught up), and make cloth or painted wood ornaments for the extended family who would appreciate such things.

St. Nicholas brings much-needed socks, slippers or tights on Dec. 6, any presents from out-of-town family are opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, and presents from each other are opened on Epiphany. Thankfully, the rest of the family understands that we don’t want the flashiest new toy on the market, so we get warm clothes, simple toys and holy cards, nice thank-you note cards to use, or even gift cards for groceries or a restaurant, for the most part.

We don’t get everything we want or need. We don’t give everything family and friends want or need. We do what we can to give comfort and joy, and try to let God do the rest.

So far it has made for joyous family memories as we gather on St. Lucy’s day to share hot cocoa and a honey cake, or Christmas Eve to eat a traditional Mexican dinner before Tata reads “‘Twas the night before Christmas….” and sing “Joy to the World” at Christmas morning Mass. Loving each other is the best gift we can give, whether it shows itself in the form of a hand-sewn Raggedy Ann doll or a Christmas stocking with an orange and a walnut in the toe, or a smile and a “Merry Christmas!”

May God bless you this Advent as we all prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. May the gifts we give each other bear fruit in eternal life.